The Victorians - Towards the Modern World

Summary: what do the children need to know?

Children should know how a big rise in population during the 18th Century created an increased demand for food and clothes, which was met by improved farming methods and the invention of machines for spinning and weaving. Factories housing these machines had to be built near sources of power - first water, then coal; ways also had to be found to transport goods cheaply - first roads, then canals and finally railways. People who worked in the factories needed to live near them so towns grew. Gradually the government was forced to take greater responsibility for dealing with crime, poverty, health and education. In each case there were big arguments: no-one wanted to encourage dependence or be thought soft on crime; nor did governments want to put up taxes. Change was often brought about by single individuals campaigning for a change in attitudes e.g. Lord Shaftesbury (child labour) or by catastrophe (the cholera epidemics of the 1840's and the Irish Famine). Able children can understand that it was the extension of democracy in order to widen the tax base (every man over the age of 21 got the vote in 1868) that put power into the hands of working people and led to the creation of the welfare state.